So how did I do with this year’s challenge. Pretty good, I think. I read a few books that I normally wouldn’t have read and other books I would have because I love the authors. I didn’t complete the challenge though and I’m sad about that. Will have to do better in 2018.
A Book with a Trans Narrator: Eddie Izzard in Believe Meby Eddie Izzard
According to GoodReads.com I read 20,948 pages from 57 books. So you can imagine how hard it was to narrow down to only 10 for the best books I’ve read this year. There were so many good ones! I think I ultimately went with these 10 was because while I may have liked some of the other books more or given other’s better reviews or more stars, these 10 books stuck with me longer after finishing reading them. I would like to think that our Diverse Lives, Diverse Stacks: Diverse Narrators reading challenge is working for me because half of the books were written by Women of Color and they contain protagonists from very diverse backgrounds. That’s exciting to me but enough of this, let’s get on to the list.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas– This book was as heartbreaking as it was realistic. Starr is caught between two worlds but doesn’t really how different they are or how truly different she acts to accommodate both parts of her life until her friend is killed by a police officer during a routine traffic stop and she is the only witness. This really should be a must read in all schools for generations to come and I’m excited that it will also be a movie coming out next year.
Pyromantic by Lish McBride– It’s funny, it’s sarcastic, it’s action packed but mostly it is just plain fun. I really hope that Lish returns to these characters because there is just so much weirdness she can do with them.
Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor-This is such a lush story with great imagery and original concept. There really isn’t another novel out there right now. The ending was such a surprise that I have no idea what to expect in the sequel.
The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon-Just like The Hate U Give, this is another heartbreaking but all too realistic look at today’s youth. To strangers, meet and share a life changing day as Natasha fights to stop her family from being deported and Daniel fights the expectations of being a child of immigrants.
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin-How do you describe this book? It has so much going on and it’s not certain how they all interweave but you know they must somehow. It’s truly a powerful book it’s no wonder it’s won so many awards.
Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray-The third book in The Diviners series takes place in the 1920’s but with it’s themes of race, gender equality and science it’s more relevant than you would think. Evie, Sam, Memphis, Jericho, Theta, Ling Henry and Isiah have to overcome the coming darkness but also the social limits society places on those in the minority.
All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater-People come from far and wide to seek miracles from the Saints of Bicho Raro but even saints themselves need miracles and sometimes those miracles can’t be achieved on their own, sometimes they need a little help from others. That’s the lesson from this one, it’s great to self sufficient but don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake-It’s dark and mysterious but also cool to read of world where women rule and men play supportive roles. That women are just as complicated and conflicted and are able to be both and still show strength and vulnerability. Here we get three young women who all of those things and more.
WarCross by Marie Lu-This was fun and exciting thrill of a book. Full of mystery and kind of a spy novel in a way. Emika a down on her luck, hacker/bounty hunter gets a chance to play in the biggest game ever in hopes of finding another hacker trying to sabotage the game. It’s full of twists and turns that will keep you guessing.
So these are my favorite books of 2017. What are yours?
This was a credibly well written and crafted novel. I was really taken in by this family and their struggles and triumphs. Pachinko follows one Korean family from 1910-1989 from their home in south of Korea to Japan. When Yangjin’s daughter sixteen year old daughter, Sunja gets pregnant and the father can’t marry her. a boarder at her boarding house agrees to Marry her and take her to Japan with him to spare her and her family any shame. Being a Korean living in Imperial Japan at the time was not easy. They were often discriminated against and limited in their movements thanks to racist policies. As the family tries to find ways to survive through poverty, war time and other personal tragedy it tears them apart and brings them together. If there is one thing that I got out of this novel is that no matter where women live, what their station in life is or what religion they practice. Their choices are pretty shit. Sunja finds herself pregnant from a secret affair with a wealthy businessman. When she finds out that he can’t marry her because he already has a wife and three daughters back in Japan she walks away. His offer of being his Korean wife and him buying her house and taken care of her is not enough. She will never be his true wife but also being an unwed mother will bring shame on her and her family. When a young pastor falls ill in her family’s boardinghouse, she and her mother help him get better. Isek is convinced he was sent to them on purpose to help them as they helped him so he agrees to marry her and take her with her to Osaka. This will spare the family of the shame. At 16, Sunja choices are to be destitute and shunned from society or marry a complete stranger and move to another country. Isek is a kind man and takes good care of her and their sons. He raises Noa as his own flesh and blood and does what he can to provide for his family and his brother and sister in law. They do grow to have mutual understanding and good marriage. It’s a shame that Isek dies early in the book due to unfairly imprisoned for political reasons but I wanted to know more about him. Their children Noa and Mozasu are two very different children. They both struggle to find their identity as Koreans born in Japan and lived their whole lives but still looked at as foreigners. I’m sure this is something many children of immigrants can relate too. Noa and Mozasu both represent the “good Korean” and the “bad Korean”. Noa was always the good student who believed that if was good, if he studied hard and was the best in his class who would be able to overcome prejudices and be accepted only to ultimately discover that years of hate is not easily overcome, particularly when the hate comes from within. Mozasu on the other hand understood early that you can’t change people’s mind. If people wanted to label him the “bad Korean” he would comply and ultimately was able to succeed.
I’ll admit I know very little about Korean history or their relationship to Japan. Considering we could be at war with North Korea very soon this seems like a big oversight on our parts. The Koreans were overtaken by Japan and forced in to be second class citizens in their own country. When they moved to Japan things were not better. They were limited on what jobs they could get. They had to live in a ghetto. Even their chosen professions were looked down upon. Pachinko, a kind of gambling was seen as criminal activity and often thought of us gangsters. After World War Two when Japan lost their war their situation became even more precarious. They were not anymore welcomed in Japan then before but with uncertainty at home they couldn’t go back to Korea. If they did, do they go back to North or South Korea. In a way they became homeless, which seems even sadder since for characters like Noa, Mozasu, Yumi and Solomon who were all born and raised in Japan. This is the only home they ever knew and yet they never treated like they belonged. There is a pretty powerful scene of Solomon, the son of Mozasu so 2nd generation Korean Japanese, having to go to the home department and register so he can stay in the country he was born in. I would say that would be crazy but then I remember what’s going on in our country and it doesn’t seem so crazy that a country would do that to it’s people. There is also discussions on women’s role. Sunja from the very beginning is a hard worker and finds it hard to stay stagnant. When Isek is imprisoned and the family is desperate for money, she steps up and starts selling kimchi by the train station despite warnings from his brother in law that women must work. She is industries and does what she needs to do to keep her family fed and sheltered. It is her strength that keeps the family going. At one point, Koh Hansu, who got her pregnant at the beginning of the story, shows up and sends them to a farm out of the city to save them from the end of the war. I was angry that after what he did and could just show up and play hero. Like how dare he? Sunja rejects him over and over again but he always comes back. So infuriating.
I’m glad that we are doing our Diverse Stacks, Diverse Lives challenge because I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t have this book otherwise and I would have missed out on a wonderful story.
**There maybe a few minor spoilers in this review**
First of all, our Cousin Sarah has good taste in books because I really enjoyed this series. So thank you Sarah for the suggestion. I’m sorry that I waited so long to read it.
One of the themes I got from this series is how past shapes our present and our future. As someone who has a degree in history I really appreciate that. The saying of “those who don’t learn from their mistakes are doomed to repeat them” maybe cliche but it’s also true. History is littered with examples of forgetting or ignoring the past and then surprised when the results are the same. Look about what is going on today. Many of the same rhetoric that is being said on both side of the aisle have all been said before. There have been so many correlation between what is currently going in the United States with what lead to other Countries descent into authoritarian regimes. Agree or disagree that is the direction the US is going, one must be a little nervous with what they are seeing happening around our country. Right now is the perfect time to look back at our past and see what we can learn.
The Tearling was founded by William Tear and his followers by leaving the United States that had fallen into Martial Law and extreme poverty. They crossed the Atlantic and through a mysterious portal to land in the “New World” to start an utopian society where everyone was equal. No one was more important then another but this was never truly the truth in practice, even from the beginning of their new colony. William Tear always stood higher then everyone else even though he tried not too. His opinion was enough to sway an issue to right or the left. He was the King without the title. You add the people’s unwillingness to talk about their pre-crossing life led to the downfall of the society after only one generation. They failed to learn from their own past. They felt that had moved beyond the troubles of their past but when things fell apart they resorted back into the old habits and fear that lead the downfall of the past and again fell part again. Three hundred years later, Kelsea inherits a country with very little assets and has the traffic it’s own people to a neighboring country to survive. The people are mostly illiterate and live in poverty. The ideals of William Tear have long been forgotten. Kelsea with the help of the Mace, try their best to right the wrongs of their past but with little army and even less of a treasury she is fighting an uphill battle. Kelsea is not perfect herself. She is young and inexperienced. She has a temper on her that makes to make rash decisions. She was also left in the dark about her own countries history, particularly the resent history that she has to learn about her people as she rules them. She makes some great decisions but she also makes some terrible mistakes. Which is important because it is sometimes to easy to make the protagonist to perfect. It would be very easy to make Kelsea a saint, bringing her country back to it’s former glory but Erika Johansen doesn’t do that. Nor does she give us the perfect happy ending either but I’ll get to that later.
The Tearling is a curious place. It takes place in the future but is clearly a Medieval society. They lost most of their medical supplies and doctors in the crossing and 300 later they still haven’t developed any technology. They don’t even have a working printing press. The Horror! They do have a little bit of magic. Kelsea also inherits two sapphires that give her abilities to see into the past and powers. The ability to see into the past and the future help her but also make things a bit tense. She starts to have visions of the past through two women who helped shape the early Tearling. She sees how life was before the crossing and how the Tearling fell. She struggles to figure out how the past is supposed to help her but she knows it’s important. As her kingdom starts to fall apart and those who are most loyal are starting to question. When she finally figures out what to do it’s ruthless and brave that runs head on into doing not knowing what the outcome will be. In the end *spoiler* she does bring back William Tear’s vision for the New World even though it’s not how she imagined it. It’s very bittersweet that accomplished what she set out to do, she righted all the inequality the country had suffered through but it left her a little alone in her victory. Then again, who knows what the future will bring for Kelsea. Maybe all we have to do is gleam into her past to see where Kelsea will go next.
It’s a rare thing for me to start a series after all the books have been released. It’s kinda of thrilling to be able to read from beginning to end without having to wait years to finish. So with that in mind, I’m going to one big review after I have completed the trilogy. However I do have some thoughts. Lately, we have seen how some dystopian and fantasy novels could be prophetic, this is kind of a terrifying thought. The Tearling was founded by people escaping to the New World because the America we know had fallen in disrepair. The gap between the rich and poor had widen so far that there was no middle class left. Cities were nothing more then slums. Food was scarce. Martial law was enacted and women were forced out of the workforce to become mothers and housewives. So they sailed across the ocean, to where we don’t know where, looking for better lives only to losing all our advancements in medicine and technology. Basically the Tearling have traveled back to the Middle Ages and three centuries, Kelsea has inherited a Kingdom that is illiterate, sick, poor and at the Mercy of the Mortemense, the more powerful nation across the border. The Mort is ruled by the Red Queen, who is just a mysterious as she is terrifying. Kelsea, only 19 but is brave in her convictions. She knows her life may be short but she still sets out to do what’s best for her people, even if it means going against the Red Queen and her more advanced army. It is an intriguing start to the series and I’m already enjoying book two.
We are back from vacation and while that’s sad it also good to be home. Surprisingly, We didn’t get to do much reading while away. I know, strange. We just were so busy that we had a chance to read, we were just too tired to do so. So, yes I’m still reading Queen of the Tearling.